Most designers have a team behind them that assists not only with production, but the logistics of running a brand. This isn't the case for emerging knitwear designer Aisling Camps. "I'm a one woman show," Aisling Camps tells TZR over the phone. "I design, I sketch, I produce, I made my website, I run my Instagram, I do all the interviews. It's all just me." But despite Camps building her label solo from the ground up, she's already making a name for herself in the knitwear market, and doing it on her own terms.
"When I started I was trying to keep up with this arbitrary fashion calendar and I was making two collections a year. But then I was like this is insanity and so much work for one person," Camps explains. "For the last couple of years I just edited and chose my favorites, the pieces I thought were super strong and people responded well to." This more streamlined production process allows Camps to be nimble and also to produce in a more sustainable manner. "I’m legit doing it old school, I don’t have a bunch of inventory," she explains. "I don’t believe in waste, and I don't want a bunch of stuff just sitting there. But if people want it, I’ll make it fresh."
Camps' current collection consists of crop tops, sheer turtlenecks, slip dresses, chunky sweaters, bralettes, and swimwear. And she has about five pieces expected to drop this year.
Originally from Trinidad, Camps moved to New York City when she was 17 to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering at Columbia University, a field she describes as "a different sort of tough from fashion." After graduating, she then took on a job at an engineering consulting firm, that just so happened to be across the street from the Fashion Institute of Technology. "I would walk out of the same train station as other FIT students." Seeing these students and being so close to the fashion school made her realize she wanted a creative outlet. When she first registered at FIT, her intentions were only to take some sketching and sewing classes at night and on the weekends. But that soon changed the more time she spent at the school. "It was honestly just fun, but I wasn't happy at my job so I quit and went full time at FIT, and did another three years of school."
But after graduating from FIT, even with two degrees under her belt, Camps had trouble finding a job without a visa. "Without an H1-B work visa you cannot legally work in the United States," she notes. "It is very difficult to get sponsored an H1-B visa in the fashion industry." After failing to get a fashion company to sponsor her to stay and give her a career, she decided to move back home to Trinidad in 2013.
Once back in her hometown, she starting making and selling knits, and unofficially launched her namesake label. "I moved back into my parents house which was very humbling at the age of 26," Camps laughs. But looking back, she's glad she left the Big Apple to build her brand. "I wasn't paying rent, and it was also like an incubator because I could try things out and not have to worry about financial stressors." For the designer, creating her line in Trindad was like being a big fish in a small pond. Unlike New York where she says basically everyone is a designer, the fashion industry in Trinidad is small.
Being in her home country also gave her the boost of inspiration she needed to design her pieces. "There are tons of waterfalls and beaches, and in a way it got me creatively inspired to make pieces more than if I would have stayed in New York stressed out and competing against a million designers." Nature influences a lot of Camps' work. "The weirdest things will set me off on a design path," she explains. "I've seen a dried coconut branch that fell and was like 'oh those are really interesting colors' and would design an entire collection around the colors from that. The starting point is usually really random, and it usually starts in a natural setting."
After settling in and working in Trinidad for a year, Camps won the Green Card lottery allowing her to move back the The United States in 2014. Since coming, she's been running her brand from her Crown Heights, Brooklyn apartment.
In 2017, Camps began traveling back and forth to Italy to grow her breadth of knowledge around knitwear, and partnered up with an Italian factory in Emilia Romagna where she sources her yarn. "I went to work everyday learning their methods and machinery — basically learning how to translate my hand-loomed designs onto power machines so they could be mass produced easily." And since then, about 20 percent of her designs are factory-made instead of personally hand-loomed.
In addition to her own label, Camps has collaborated with other creatives to harness her unique perspective on knits. "I made this insane sweater for Pyer Moss a few years ago. It was in the collection right before Kerby [Jean-Raymond, Pyer Moss' founder and designer] won the CFDA." And more recently. she partnered with rising menswear designer Post-Imperial to create a sweater that will be in retailers later this year (shown above). On top of these collaborations, Camps' knits have also been spotted on A-listers like Cardi B, Janelle Monet, Gabrielle Union, and Tracee Ellis Ross.
But the reality of building a small brand is that the months and years of work — the build up to a celebrity wearing a piece — isn't necessarily understood. "It's been five years, but five years when you don’t have a massive amount of cash … it has to grow at its own pace, and I’m okay with that." Early growth stages can push a label in a number of different directions: to cast a wider net to attract customers, or to get more specific and hone a vision. For Camps, she wants to keep it special and specific.
As for what's in store for the now-Brooklyn-based brand, expect a few pieces to drop soon. "I have a handful of styles that I want to start trickling out. But honestly, my plan is just to keep [being] authentic to myself." To see the dreamy pieces for yourself, keep scrolling below to see eight from Camps' collection, and view the rest on the designer's website.
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